Dissecting the Myth, Is The Leica Look Just a Mere Preset Away?

Dissecting the Myth, Is The Leica Look Just a Mere Preset Away?

For you photographers who have always been curious about the Leica look, this article is specially written for you.

The "Leica look" is a term often used among photographers to describe the unique visual aesthetic produced by Leica cameras. The history of Leica dates back to 1913 when Oskar Barnack developed the first 35mm camera, revolutionizing photography with its portability while maintaining its image quality. Since then, Leica's commitment to quality has been evident in their meticulous lens crafting process, where their lenses are handmade with rigorous quality control measures. This precision and dedication contributed to the iconic Leica look characterized by exceptional sharpness, rich contrast, and pleasing color rendition that many photographers admire.

A Modern Take on a Classic Aesthetic

With Leica’s longstanding history of photographic innovation, they have recently introduced the new Leica Lux app, aiming to redefine standards in smartphone photography by bringing their renowned aesthetic to a wider audience. The app, currently available for iPhones only, offers a range of filters and lenses designed to emulate the Leica look through presets inspired by the signature color science and contrast levels that traditionally can only be achieved with Leica cameras and lenses.

Since the launch of the app, I have tried shooting with it for a brief moment, and I will leave the judging process to you if it works. Like every new launch, it does come with its own bugs that cause the app to crash from time to time and lag during usage. Based on personal preference, shooting with the Aperture Mode on the app does yield a better look as it tries to emulate the Leica 28mm Summilux and comes with a slight vignette as well. Those iPhone 14 Pro users who have been missing their 28mm focal length in older phones can finally do so natively with this app as well.

Sample images below are shot straight out of the camera with the Leica Lux app on iPhone 14 Pro using Photo and Aperture Mode with Leica Natural profile on.

Comparing the Leica Lux App to the Real Thing

After my brief experience with the app, I have to say it does produce a nicer look compared to the native camera app on the iPhone. That leaves me with one key question in my mind: Can this app truly replicate the experience and results of shooting with a Leica camera? After all, we buy into the Leica system partially for its iconic look, which is now aimed to be solved with the introduction of this app. With this question in mind, of course, the next logical thing to do is to compare it with the only Leica camera I have with me now, the Leica CL paired with the Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH.

In this comparison, it is essential to consider the balance between both the practicality and image quality aspects of photography. While the Leica Lux app offers a convenient way to add a touch of Leica's aesthetic to your iPhone photos, it is still lacking and not capable enough to replicate the tactile experience of using a finely crafted camera.

Additionally, the app's preset colors, though impressive, may not fully capture the subtleties of tones that a Leica camera and lens can, especially in the areas where the tones and depth of field transition. Note that the depth of field created from this app is digitally mapped from the depth sensor of the iPhone and may fail 90% of the time with complicated subjects. Here I will leave a series of random image comparisons for your interpretation.

Personal Thoughts on the Leica Lux App and Leica Look

Now, if you made it this far through the series of sample images and comparisons, I am pretty sure you will have an opinion of your own. Here is my take on this entire experimentation: having an array of profiles available on the Leica Lux app on your iPhone might be fun to play with and experiment with, but if you are hoping for it to change the image quality output from a phone, you may be utterly disappointed. You still can’t escape from the typical iPhone file oversharpening and also the limitation in the resolving power from a small sensor when the light starts to fall.

Here is also a catch for those who think the images shot with the Leica CL on the right have the signature Leica color profile look on them and believe owning one might change your output. All of them were shot in raw format and processed with Adobe standard color profile. Therefore, stripping all the possibility of color influence inherited from Leica’s camera profile. So technically, the look you see here is merely coming from the lens and sensor itself only and has nothing to do with Leica’s color profile.

To clarify, this is how I have been shooting my Leica CL all this while because honestly, I didn't like its straight-out-of-camera JPEG output. Though I admit, I was among those who spoke highly about Leica Color and bought into the system because of it, only to realize it isn’t really my favorite thing about using a Leica camera. The only thing that kept me continuously using it is merely its small form factor and, of course, its capability to produce great raw image quality, which every other camera on the planet produced in the last five years also does. Maybe a little pride in wearing the premium red badge around my neck in the end.


The Leica Lux app is fun to have, but it is still not capable of replacing the entire experience of photographing with a Leica camera, especially with its inherent limitations coming from a small smartphone camera sensor, particularly when viewing on a large screen or print. For now, the app will remain on my phone as I seek ways to push the limits of smartphone output while shooting alongside a proper camera.

Lastly, as photographers, we continually seek tools that enhance our creative expression. I would love for you to try the Leica Lux app and see if it suits your photographic style. Can digital tools like this app ever truly match your output expectations compared to using an authentic Leica camera? What do you think?

Zhen Siang Yang's picture

Yang Zhen Siang is a commercial photographer specialising in architecture, food and product photography. He help businesses to present themselves through the art of photography, crafting visually appealing and outstanding images that sells.

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I loved Leica film cameras. Had and M3 and M6. Digital though is another matter. I took a photo of one of those wooden artists hands in the Leica shop in London with the Noctilux 50mm 0.95 on my card. That's £19K worth gear! Went home and did the same with GH5 and the 25mm 1.5 and you couldn't the tell photos apart. Proved to me it's all the mind and the wallet.

Leica users will tell you the experience of using a Leica camera is very important and a m4/3 GH5 with autofocus lens just isn’t the same and cannot replicate the look of a full frame sensor. Each to their own of course,

Yes, using a Leica camera is a lot more about the tactility and the appreciation of a finely craft photo making machine. I am pretty sure in terms of files, any digital camera produced in the last 5 years are pretty much equal and as for the look / colour of the image. That is quite subjective towards the preference. If leica colors works for you then it will otherwise fujifilm has tons of film preset sitting there laughing at leica

To me its the glow of the Leica lens on a Leica camera that for the most part never achieved critical focus (rangefinder hit ratio is very low) so the area in focus has a glow and the out of focus area is redered soft like you shot with vaseline. I have taken over 100000 photos with Leica gear and some images do have a magic look but I also gotten that magic look many times with my Hasselblad gear (fall off with portraits is unreal not achievable with 35mm systems) and even Fuji (some ethereal images from Greenland) and Sony gear (crispy focus and lots of Bokeh.

totally agree.. but it is also the overall experience of making picture. carrying a hasselblad and leica around is a total different experience and joy level

The reason I like using my Leica camera (Leica M 240) is because I like using a Leica camera.

That's a good reason. The gear you have should make you want to grab it and use it.
That's why some years back, I liked my Fuji X100T and why I now own a X100VI.

great choice and a solid gear

Yes, i believe every photographer have their very own favourite camera that they keep going back to. Like an extension of their arm

Awaiting the inevitable iPhone case adorned with a red dot.

To be fair, Leica have been quite clever here. They know that most people who use this app will not have any experience with a real Leica camera nor will most people have the money to invest in one. They've seen the way tiktok and Instagram have driven the demand of Fuji cameras - in part due to their film emulations - and they want some of that action. This is a great way to get "that look" into the hands of aspiring influencers who can't afford a high-end camera.

Perfect emulation? No.
Good enough for the masses? Probably.

well i figured they must be thinking, since we cant sell our camera to the masses we will make a subscription plan that is affordable to everyone. Now everyone can shoot with a "Leica"